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Water Conservation

This page provides an overview of water efficiency requirements for local governments in Washington State, including examples of local water conservation programs.


Washington's legendary supply of water in rivers, lakes, and aquifers that supports a multitude of recreational, residential, and industrial uses has, until very recently, been taken for granted. Water is no longer as available as it once was. Competing interests for fish and wildlife preservation, forest enhancement, recreation, municipal and industrial uses, agriculture, and hydropower all have a claim. Part of the solution to managing growth and ensuring adequate water in Washington's lakes and streams involves implementing water conservation measures.

The state Department of Health (DOH) enacted water use efficiency regulations, effective in 2007, to conserve water for both the environment and future generations by requiring municipal water suppliers to use water more efficiently. The regulations support a mission of ensuring safe and reliable drinking water in the following ways: contribute to long-term water supply reliability and public health protection; promote good stewardship of the state's water resources; and ensure efficient operation and management of water systems. See DOH's Water Use Efficiency page.

The Growth Management Act and the Endangered Species Act have also focused attention on issues of water quality and quantity. Dwindling fish stocks and listings under the Endangered Species Act have heightened concern about unauthorized water use and compliance with water resources laws.

Federal Guidelines - Safe Drinking Water Act

  • The Safe Drinking Water Act requires the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to publish guidelines for use by water utilities in preparing a water conservation plan. See EPA's Summary of the Clean Water Act and regulatory information on Drinking Water.
  • In 1998, the EPA issued Water Conservation Plan Guidelines for public water systems
  • States may, at their discretion, require public water systems to prepare a plan consistent with the guidelines as a condition of qualifying for a loan under the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF).

Water Conservation Planning in Washington State

Responsibility for Conservation Program

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is the lead agency regarding conservation program development and planning for public water systems. The Department of Ecology (DOE) has the overall state responsibility for development and implementation of a comprehensive water conservation program that includes all water uses. Their principal webpages are listed below.

Water System Plans

Public water suppliers are required to develop and update a water system plan every six years that includes a water use efficiency program

Water Use Efficiency

In 2003, the Washington State Legislature passed the Municipal Water Supply - Efficiency Requirements Act, referred to as the Municipal Water Law. It directed the Department of Health (DOH) to develop significant new water use efficiency regulations for municipal water suppliers. The key components of the new requirements are: mandatory provisions for conservation plan; standards for water distribution system leakage; establishment of conservation goals in a public forum; and a conservation performance reporting system to show progress toward meeting conservation goals. The Water Use Efficiency Rule went into effect on January 22, 2007.

  • RCW 70A.125.170 - Water Use Efficiency Requirements - Rules
  • Water Use Efficiency, Washington State Department of Health, Office of Drinking Water - Includes rules, fact sheet, planning guides

Water System Conservation Plans

Water Conservation and Water Use Efficiency Policies

Water Efficiency Measures

Water Metering

Source and service metering are key to a successful water use efficiency program. Source and service meters provide the data necessary for determining leakage, to assist in managing an important resource, and to enhance planning activities. All municipal water suppliers must meter their existing and new service connections. The new regulations are summarized in Chapter 2 of the Water Use Efficiency Guidebook .

Water Leak Detection

A distribution system leakage (DSL) standard is a significant element of the new water use efficiency (WUE) requirements. Guidelines and information on creating DSL standards are contained below.

Conservation Pricing - Water Rates

One of the most effective tools for water conservation is the rate structure. Rate structures and practices that promote the efficient use of water should be the goal to ensure sufficient resources to meet competing uses.

Example Water Rates Documents


  • Cascade Water Alliance Natural Yard Care
  • Xeriscaping Conserves Water, by Michelle Moore, On Tap, National Environmental Services Center, Spring 2008
  • Milton Municipal Code Sec. 17.44.110 - Landscape Standards - See J. Water Retention, Conservation and Low Impact Design and K. Irrigation - also provisions on plantings and mulch.
  • Oak Harbor Municipal Code Sec. 19.46.040 - General Landscaping Standards. See (6) - Irrigation and Watering and (11) Xeriscape Process
  • Poulsbo Zoning Code Ch. 18.130 - Landscaping See 18.130.100 Water conservation
  • Richland Badger Mountain Subarea Plan, Section 11: Landscape Standards - Describes the landscape guidelines and outlines guiding principles related to overall orientation for all landscape applicants, common standards, District-specific standards, and an extensive plant list suitable in a variety of situations.

Water Reuse

Standards for water reuse were developed under the authority of and pursuant to specific requirements in Ch. 90.46 RCW. The state departments of health and ecology provide the guides and regulations.

Example Water Reuse Documents

Recommended Resources

Last Modified: April 02, 2021